Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.
The presidential election of 1972 came in the midst of the U.S. rapprochement with the USSR known as detente. Earlier in the year, President Richard Nixon traveled to Moscow for a major summit with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. At that time, the two leaders signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. As a result, the U.S. relationship with the USSR was a key foreign policy topic of the election.
Other foreign policy events of the year were Nixon’s trip to China and a major escalation of the fighting in Vietnam. The latter led to renewed peace negotiations and by mid-October the outlines of an agreement were in place. The South Vietnamese refused to go along so nothing was finalized before the election, although a week before the voting National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger infamously stated “peace is at hand.”
Democratic nominee George McGovern ran on a platform that was against the war in Vietnam and called for major defense cuts. He also unsuccessfully attempted to draw attention to the Watergate issue, but it took another two years for that to fell Nixon.
Nixon won the election in a landslide over McGovern. The Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research prepared the following report (from the Subject-Numeric Files NAID 580618) analyzing the reaction of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc to Nixon’s victory.